Why NESAWG is endorsing the Climate Strike

On September 20th and September 27th, youth around the world will lead a global climate strike, walking out of their schools while adults shut down their workplaces in solidarity. The US youth organizers, from organizations including Earth Guardians, Earth Uprising, Extinction Rebellion, Youth US, Fridays For Future, International Indigenous Youth Council, Sunrise Movement, US Youth Climate Strike, and Zero Hour, have created a list of demands, including passage of “a green new deal, respect of Indigenous lands and sovereignty, environmental justice, protection and restoration of biodiversity, and implementation of sustainable agriculture.”  

Indeed, agriculture must be a part of any climate solution. Scientists estimate that agriculture has lead to a decline in soil-borne carbon from between 50 and 66%, and, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, agriculture, along with forestry and other forms of land use activities, were responsible for approximately 13% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 44% of methane (CH4), and 82% of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from human activities globally from 2007-2016, which represents 23% of humans’ net greenhouse gas emissions over this period.

Along with poor, coastal, and communities of color worldwide, farmers are on the frontlines of climate change’s effects. Climate change is already threatening the livelihoods of farmers across the world with extreme weather, changing climatic conditions, and new pests and diseases. At the same time, farmers rightly consider themselves stewards of their land and resources, and agriculture certainly has the potential to be a part of the solution. Farmers, agroecologists, and policy advocates are touting regenerative and soil building agricultural practices as one way to sequester carbon. States throughout the US are beginning to adopt their own climate-friendly agriculture policies and programs to help farmers implement these practices, while farmers are mobilizing in favor of the Green New Deal and other plans to mitigate climate change. 

Mainstream agricultural groups do not appear to be well represented, however, among the endorsers of the youth climate strike. We suspect part of the reason is political differences between the organizers and some of the agricultural groups who work on climate change; while many of the healthy soils initiatives being advanced by states are often linked to carbon exchanges or market-based incentives, groups rooted in the environmental justice community reject market-based solutions in favor of a Just Transition framework, meaning the transition to a new economy, as well as the outcome, must be place-based, reparative, and equitable. The Climate Justice Alliance explains, “Carbon offset programs. . . allow states and corporations to continue to emit carbon as long as they plant trees somewhere else, usually resulting in the displacement of Indigenous communities. Carbon trading schemes enable emitters to continue polluting wherever they want as long as they have the money to purchase permits. . .Real solutions need to put an end to the extractive economy while fostering a Just Transition to locally-based, regenerative economies.”

As such a pivotal sector in both contributing to and mitigating climate change, agriculture needs to be at the table. At the end of the day, we all want to live in healthy, restorative communities with access to everything we need to thrive, and we need each other to get there. Plus, adults need to respect the wisdom and perspectives of the youth at the front of this movement, which includes acknowledging that the incremental changes many agricultural groups embrace are not urgent enough to satisfy the needs of those who will shoulder the brunt of the climate burden. As the strike’s principles for endorsers caution, “This wave of mobilisation is as amazing as it is fragile - its organic nature, the fact that it’s led by (very) young people, the absence of  a large form of centralization, the DIY culture and the zero-budget approach are both one of the reasons for its success and one of its main weaknesses if it is to last and trigger the change it is seeking. It is thus important for NGOs and other organisations to approach their own participation in this wave with a lot of care - it is about supporting this moment, not capturing its visibility, co-opting its members/leaders, etc.”

NESAWG is endorsing the climate strike because solutions to the climate crisis cannot wait. We recognize the interconnectedness of frontline communities, from coastal cities to the heartland, from the old to the young, all of whom are facing unprecedented threats to our homes, communities, and livelihoods. 

We would love to see young people involved in agriculture alongside their climate justice oriented peers at the front of the climate strike movement, and farm advocates joining the environmental justice community in offering solidarity to the youth who will be left cleaning up the climate catastrophe as they enter adulthood. Will you join us in the streets on September 20th? Sign up here